The Carved Lions - Mrs. Molesworth - ebook

The Carved LionsByMrs. Molesworth

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The Carved Lions


Mrs. Molesworth

Illustrator: L. Leslie Brooke

Table of Contents















It is already a long time since I was a little girl. Sometimes, when I look out upon the world and see how many changes have come about, how different many things are from what I can remember them, I could believe that a still longer time had passed since my childhood than is really the case. Sometimes, on the contrary, the remembrance of things that then happened comes over me so very vividly, so very real-ly, that I can scarcely believe myself to be as old as I am.

I can remember things in my little girlhood more clearly than many in later years. This makes me hope that the story of some part of it may interest children of to-day, for I know I have not forgotten the feelings I had as a child. And after all, I believe that in a great many ways children are very like each other in their hearts and minds, even though their lives may seem very different and very far apart.

The first years of my childhood were very happy, though there were some things in my life which many children would not like at all. My parents were not rich, and the place where we lived was not pretty or pleasant. It was a rather large town in an ugly part of the country, where great tall chimneys giving out black smoke, and streams—once clear sparkling brooks, no doubt—whose water was nearly as black as the smoke, made it often difficult to believe in bright blue sky or green grass, or any of the sweet pure country scenes that children love, though perhaps children that have them do not love them as much as those who have not got them do.

I think that was the way with me. The country was almost the same as fairyland to me—the peeps I had of it now and then were a delight I could not find words to express.

But what matters most to children is not where their home is, but what it is. And our home was a very sweet and loving one, though it was only a rather small and dull house in a dull street. Our father and mother did everything they possibly could to make us happy, and the trial of living at Great Mexington must have been far worse for them than for us. For they had both been accustomed to rich homes when they were young, and father had never expected that he would have to work so hard or in the sort of way he had to do, after he lost nearly all his money.

When I say "us," I mean my brother Haddie and I. Haddie—whose real name was Haddon—was two years older than I, and we two were the whole family. My name—was I was going to say, for now there are so few people to call me by my Christian name that it seems hardly mine—my name is Geraldine. Somehow I never had a "short" for it, though it is a long name, and Haddie was always Haddie, and "Haddon" scarcely needs shortening. I think it was because he nearly always called me Sister or "Sis."

Haddie was between ten and eleven years old and I was nine when the great change that I am going to tell you about came over our lives. But I must go back a little farther than that, otherwise you would not understand all about us, nor the meaning of the odd title I have chosen for my story.

I had no governess and I did not go to school. My mother taught me herself, partly, I think, to save expense, and partly because she did not like the idea of sending me to even a day-school at Great Mexington. For though many of the families there were very rich, and had large houses and carriages and horses and beautiful gardens, they were not always very refined. There were good and kind and unselfish people there as there are everywhere, but there were some who thought more of being rich than of anything else—the sort of people that are called "purse proud." And as children very often take after their parents, my father and mother did not like the idea of my having such children as my companions—children who would look down upon me for being poor, and perhaps treat me unkindly on that account.

"When Geraldine is older she must go to school," my father used to say, "unless by that time our ship comes in and we can afford a governess. But when she is older it will not matter so much, as she will have learnt to value things at their just worth."

I did not then understand what he meant, but I have never forgotten the words.

I was a very simple child. It never entered my head that there was anything to be ashamed of in living in a small house and having only two servants. I thought it would be nice to have more money, so that mamma would not need to be so busy and could have more pretty dresses, and above all that we could then live in the country, but I never minded being poor in any sore or ashamed way. And I often envied Haddie, who did go to school. I thought it would be nice to have lots of other little girls to play with. I remember once saying so to mamma, but she shook her head.

"I don't think you would like it as much as you fancy you would," she said. "Not at present at least. When you are a few years older I hope to send you for some classes to Miss Ledbury's school, and by that time you will enjoy the good teaching. But except for the lessons, I am quite sure it is better and happier for you to be at home, even though you find it rather lonely sometimes."

And in his way Haddie said much the same. School was all very well for boys, he told me. If a fellow tried to bully you, you could bully him back. But girls weren't like that—they couldn't fight it out. And when I said to him I didn't want to fight, he still shook his head, and repeated that I wouldn't like school at all—some of his friends' sisters were at school and they hated it.

Still, though I did not often speak of it, the wish to go to school, and the belief that I should find school-life very happy and interesting, remained in my mind. I often made up fancies about it, and pictured myself doing lessons with other little girls and reading the same story-books and playing duets together. I could not believe that I should not like it. The truth was, I suppose, that I was longing for companions of my own age.

It was since Haddie went to school that I had felt lonely. I was a great deal with mamma, but of course there were hours in the day when she was taken up with other things and could not attend to me. I used to long then for the holidays to come so that I should have Haddie again to play with.

My happiest days were Wednesdays and Saturdays, for then he did not go to school in the afternoon. And mamma very often planned some little treat for us on those days, such as staying up to have late tea with her and papa when he came in from his office, or reading aloud some new story-book, or going a walk with her in the afternoon and buying whatever we liked for our own tea at the confectioner's.

Very simple treats—but then we were very simple children, as I have said already.

Our house, though in a street quite filled with houses, was some little way from the centre of the town, where the best shops were—some years before, our street had, I suppose, been considered quite in the country. We were very fond of going to the shops with mamma. We thought them very grand and beautiful, though they were not nearly as pretty as shops are nowadays, for they were much smaller and darker, so that the things could not be spread out in the attractive way they are now, nor were the things themselves nearly as varied and tempting.

There was one shop which interested us very much. It belonged to the principal furniture-maker of Mexington. It scarcely looked like a shop, but was more like a rather gloomy private house very full of heavy dark cabinets and tables and wardrobes and chairs, mostly of mahogany, and all extremely good and well made. Yes, furniture, though ugly, really was very good in those days—I have one or two relics of my old home still, in the shape of a leather-covered arm-chair and a beautifully-made chest of drawers. For mamma's godmother had helped to furnish our house when we came to Mexington, and she was the sort of old lady who when she did give a present gave it really good of its kind. She had had furniture herself made by Cranston—that was the cabinet-maker's name—for her home was in the country only about three hours' journey from Mexington—and it had been first-rate, so she ordered what she gave mamma from him also.

But it was not because the furniture was so good that we liked going to Cranston's. It was for quite another reason. A little way in from the front entrance to the shop, where there were glass doors to swing open, stood a pair of huge lions carved in very dark, almost black, wood. They were nearly, if not quite, as large as life, and the first time I saw them, when I was only four or five, I was really frightened of them. They guarded the entrance to the inner part of the shop, which was dark and gloomy and mysterious-looking, and I remember clutching fast hold of mamma's hand as we passed them, not feeling at all sure that they would not suddenly spring forward and catch us. But when mamma saw that I was frightened, she stopped and made me feel the lions and stroke them to show me that they were only wooden and could not possibly hurt me. And after that I grew very fond of them, and was always asking her to take me to the "lion shop."

Haddie liked them too—his great wish was to climb on one of their backs and play at going a ride.

I don't think I thought of that. What I liked was to stroke their heavy manes and fancy to myself what I would do if, all of a sudden, one of them "came alive," as I called it, and turned his head round and looked at me. And as I grew older, almost without knowing it, I made up all sorts of fairy fancies about the lions—I sometimes thought they were enchanted princes, sometimes that they were real lions who were only carved wood in the day-time, and at night walked about wherever they liked.

So, for one reason or another, both Haddie and I were always very pleased when mamma had to look in at Cranston's.

This happened oftener than might have been expected, considering that our house was small, and that my father and mother were not rich enough often to buy new furniture. For mamma's godmother seemed to be always ordering something or other at the cabinet-maker's, and as she knew mamma was very sensible and careful, she used to write to her to explain to Cranston about the things she wanted, or to look at them before he sent them home, to see that they were all right. And Cranston was always very polite indeed to mamma.

He himself was a stout, red-faced, little, elderly man, with gray whiskers, which he brushed up in a fierce kind of way that made him look like a rather angry cat, though he really was a very gentle and kind old man. I thought him much nicer than his partner, whose name was Berridge, a tall, thin man, who talked very fast, and made a great show of scolding any of the clerks or workmen who happened to be about.

Mr. Cranston was very proud of the lions. They had belonged to his grandfather and then to his father, who had both been in the same sort of business as he was, and he told mamma they had been carved in "the East." I didn't know what he meant by the East, and I don't now know what country he was alluding to—India or China or Japan. And I am not sure that he knew himself. But "the East" sounded far away and mysterious—it might do for fairyland or brownieland, and I was quite satisfied. No doubt, wherever they came from, the lions were very beautifully carved.

Now I will go on to tell about the changes that came into our lives, closing the doors of these first happy childish years, when there scarcely seemed to be ever a cloud on our sky.

One day, when I was a month or two past nine years old, mamma said to me just as I was finishing my practising—I used to practise half an hour every other day, and have a music lesson from mamma the between days—that she was going out to do some shopping that afternoon, and that, if I liked, I might go with her.

"I hope it will not rain," she added, "though it does look rather threatening. But perhaps it will hold off till evening."

"And I can take my umbrella in case it rains," I said. I was very proud of my umbrella. It had been one of my last birthday presents. "Yes, mamma, I should like to come very much. Will Haddie come too?"

For it was Wednesday—one of his half-holidays.

"To tell the truth," said mamma, "I forgot to ask him this morning if he would like to come, but he will be home soon—it is nearly luncheon time. I daresay he will like to come, especially as I have to go to Cranston's."

She smiled a little as she said this. Our love for the carved lions amused her.

"Oh yes, I am sure he will like to come," I said. "And may we buy something for tea at Miss Fryer's on our way home?"

Mamma smiled again.

"That will be two treats instead of one," she said, "but I daresay I can afford two or three pence."

Miss Fryer was our own pet confectioner, or pastry-cook, as we used to say more frequently then. She was a Quakeress, and her shop was very near our house, so near that mamma let me go there alone with Haddie. Miss Fryer was very grave and quiet, but we were not at all afraid of her, for we knew that she was really very kind. She was always dressed in pale gray or fawn colour, with a white muslin shawl crossed over her shoulders, and a white net cap beautifully quilled and fitting tightly round her face, so that only a very little of her soft gray hairshowed. She always spoke to us as "thou" and "thee," and she was very particular to give us exactly what we asked for, and also to take the exact money in payment. But now and then, after the business part had been all correctly settled, she would choose out a nice bun or sponge-cake, or two or three biscuits, and would say "I give thee this as a present." And she did not like us to say, "Thank you, Miss Fryer," but "Thank you, friend Susan." I daresay she would have liked us to say, "Thank thee," but neither Haddie nor I had courage for that!

I ran upstairs in high spirits, and five minutes after when Haddie came in from school he was nearly as pleased as I to hear our plans.

"If only it does not rain," said mamma at luncheon.

Luncheon was, of course, our dinner, and it was often mamma's dinner really too. Our father was sometimes so late of getting home that he liked better to have tea than a regular dinner. But mamma always called it luncheon because it seemed natural to her.

"I don't mind if it does rain," said Haddie, "because of my new mackintosh."

Haddie was very proud of his mackintosh, which father had got him for going to and from school in rainy weather. Mackintoshes were then a new invention, and very expensive compared with what they are now. But Haddie was rather given to catching cold, and at Great Mexington it did rain very often—much oftener than anywhere else, I am quite sure.

"And Geraldine doesn't mind because of her new umbrella," said mamma. "So we are proof against the weather, whatever happens."

It may seem strange that I can remember so much of a time now so very long ago. But I really do—of that day and of those that followed it especially, because, as I have already said, they were almost the close of the first part of our childish life.

That afternoon was such a happy one. We set off with mamma, one on each side of her, hanging on her arms, Haddie trying to keep step with her, and I skipping along on my tiptoes. When we got to the more crowded streets we had to separate—that is to say, Haddie had to let go of mamma's arm, so that he could fall behind when we met more than one person. For the pavements at Mexington were in some parts narrow and old-fashioned.

Mamma had several messages to do, and at some of the shops Haddie and I waited outside because we did not think they were very interesting. But at some we were only too ready to go in. One I remember very well. It was a large grocer's. We thought it a most beautiful shop, though nowadays it would be considered quite dull and gloomy, compared with the brilliant places of the kind you see filled with biscuits and dried fruits and all kinds of groceries tied up with ribbons, or displayed in boxes of every colour of the rainbow. I must say I think the groceries themselves were quite as good as they are now, and in some cases better, but that may be partly my fancy, as I daresay I have a partiality for old-fashioned things.

Mamma did not buy all our groceries at this grand shop, for it was considered dear. But certain things, such as tea—which cost five shillings a pound then—she always ordered there. And the grocer, like Cranston, was a very polite man. I think he understood that though she was not rich, and never bought a great deal, mamma was different in herself from the grandly-dressed Mexington ladies who drove up to his shop in their carriages, with a long list of all the things they wanted. And when mamma had finished giving her order, he used always to offer Haddie and me a gingerbread biscuit of a very particular and delicious kind. They were large round biscuits, of a nice bright brown colour, and underneath they had thin white wafer, which we called "eating paper." They were crisp without being hard. I never see gingerbreads like them now.

"This is a lucky day, mamma," I said, when we came out of the grocer's. "Mr. Simeon never forgets to give us gingerbreads when he is there himself."

"No," said mamma, "he is a very kind man. Perhaps he has got Haddies and Geraldines of his own, and knows what they like."

"And now are we going to Cranston's?" asked my brother.

Mamma looked at the paper in her hand. She was very careful and methodical in all her ways, and always wrote down what she had to do before she came out.

"Yes," she said, "I think I have done everything else. But I shall be some little time at Cranston's. Mrs. Selwood has asked me to settle ever so many things with him—she is going abroad for the winter, and wants him to do a good deal of work at Fernley while she is away."


Haddie and I were not at all sorry to hear that mamma's call at Cranston's was not to be a hurried one.

"We don't mind if you are ever so long," I said; "do we, Haddie?"

"No, of course we don't," Haddie agreed. "I should like to spend a whole day in those big show-rooms of his. Couldn't we have jolly games of hide-and-seek, Sis? And then riding the lions! I wish you were rich enough to buy one of the lions, mamma, and have it for an ornament in the hall, or in the drawing-room."

"We should need to build a hall or a drawing-room to hold it," said mamma, laughing. "I'm afraid your lion would turn into a white elephant, Haddie, if it became ours."

I remember wondering what she meant. How could a lion turn into an elephant? But I was rather a slow child in some ways. Very often I thought a thing over a long time in my mind if I did not understand it before asking any one to explain it. And so before I said anything it went out of my head, for here we were at Cranston's door.

There was only a young shopman to be seen, but when mamma told him she particularly wanted to see Mr. Cranston himself, he asked us to step in and take a seat while he went to fetch him.

We passed between the lions. It seemed quite a long time since we had seen them, and I thought they looked at us very kindly. I was just nudging Haddie to whisper this to him when mamma stopped to say to us that we might stay in the outer room if we liked; she knew it was our favourite place, and in a few minutes we heard her talking to old Mr. Cranston, who had come to her in the inner show-room through another door.

Haddie's head was full of climbing up onto one of the lions to go a ride. But luckily he could not find anything to climb up with, which was a very good thing, as he would have been pretty sure to topple over, and Mr. Cranston would not have been at all pleased if he had scratched the lion.

To keep him quiet I began talking to him about my fancies. I made him look close into the lions' faces—it was getting late in the afternoon, and we had noticed before we came in that the sun was setting stormily. A ray of bright orange-coloured light found its way in through one of the high-up windows which were at the back of the show-room, and fell right across the mane of one of the lions and almost into the eyes of the other. The effect on the dark, almost black, wood of which they were made was very curious.

"Look, Haddie," I said suddenly, catching his arm, "doesn't it really look as if they were smiling at us—the one with the light on its face especially? I really do think there's something funny about them—I wonder if they are enchanted."